More than 500 families are hoping against hope that the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) will comply with a November 2009 Delhi High Court order to allot them land in lieu of the Authority’s demolition of their homes without notice in December 2006.
The court ordered DDA to allot alternate land to evicted families within six months i.e. by May 2010. But four years and two contempt notices later, the DDA has failed to act. The worst part is that while the slums were demolished, the cleared land lies vacant and has not been used for any new facility or infrastructure.
Local real estate agents concede that property rates in and around Bharat Nagar Colony increased after the slums were demolished. Real estate price for a 100 sqm flat has increased from Rs 30 lakh-35 lakh in 2006 to Rs 85 lakh-95 lakh now.
Despite repeated requests for comment, DDA did not respond. It also failed to respond to a detailed questionnaire for this story.
The residents of Bharat Nagar settlers colony, also called refugee colony, woke up on the morning of 8 December 2006 to the sound of bulldozers. Residents say there was no notice or intimation from DDA or the former unified Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) warning them of any demolition drive. More than 500 families lost their homes by the end of that day.
“Pehle Pakistan se bhagaya aur phir Hindustan se ( First we were thrown out from Pakistan and then from India),” said 90-year-old Chetan Das, who had been staying at the colony after moving from Multan, Pakistan during the 1947 partition.
“Please tell me where do I belong,” he asked in a broken voice.
Das says he and many other refugees started living in makeshift houses in Bharat Nagar after former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru authorised refugees to stay on the unoccupied land. The residents used the vacant land to grow fruits and vegetables to sustain themselves. The farm land was turned into the Ashoka Garden ahead of the 1982 Asian Games and a boundary wall was built, without any objection from the residents, to prevent encroachment into the garden.
In the period between 1947 till 1982, Bharat Nagar’s makeshift houses gradually turned into semi-pucca structures with water and electricity supply. The Centre even built toilets for every household before 1980. The residents had even received their ration and voter ID cards. Life in Bharat Nagar settlers colony was business as usual until 8 December 2006.
“My mother couldn’t take the sudden shock of eviction. She had cardiac trouble and died,” said Suninder Singh, a 40-year-old autodriver.
“The sudden demolition devastated us,” said graphic designer Ramesh Kumar, who too lost his home. “Till date, we are clueless about why our homes were demolished.”
When locals asked the then Lieutenant-Governor Tejinder Khanna why their homes were demolished, he said that he did not have any information. Residents then approached the Delhi High Court in 2007. Documents show that DDA held MCD responsible for the demolition and the MCD said DDA removed the slums from the land and that MCD only assisted the Authority.
In 2009, the court asked DDA to provide 18 sqm plots to families who had been living in Bharat Nagar settlers colony soon after 1947, and 12.5 sqm plots to families who settled there between 1990-1998. Over the years, DDA set up several committees to identify families eligible to receive plots only to discard their reports; DDA’s fourth committee has proposed allotting plots to just 43 families (down from 330 families identified by the first committee led by DDA director of land management SN Gupta). However, not a single family has so far received a plot.
Even as DDA continues to drag its feet in the case and the land on which the residents’ homes stood still lies vacant, eight years after being cleared, the residents are paying a price.
Most families now live as tenants in the nearby Bharat Nagar colony, and pay thousands in monthyl rent. Most don’t have ration cards and are forced to pay more for their rations in the open market.
Shanti Devi, now 48, was 15 when she got married and came to Bharat Nagar settlers colony in 1981. After her husband became paralysed in an accident in 1990, she was forced to work to support her family. Her sons have since grown up and live elsewhere while she and her husband live under a temporary shelter outside a temple in Bharat Nagar. “We don’t know why we lost our home, but I hope we get it back someday,” said Shanti. “Hope is all I have.”
(Ifat Gazia reports for Iamin.in, India's hyperlocal news network)